Phub Dem  | Paro

Dema’s four-year-old granddaughter, Tandin Tshomo Dorji, is supposed to be playing with colours in her Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre in Lingshi. Instead, she is in a potato field, drenched in rain and stained with mud with her grandmother.

Tandin’s house is locked. She has to stay in the field until dusk.

Dema said that there was no one to look after her granddaughter, as everyone was engaged in farm work. “We have to work because that’s our only source of income.”

Villagers welcomed the centre in 2015, according to Dema.  “Our children could have their meals on time, learn new things and keep themselves clean and safe.”

However, with the closure of the centre, life of many rural children is back to square one.

Lingshi ECCD in Naja gewog in Paro is far from the dzongkhag. Nine children enrolled with the ECCD. The centre was closed after a week of regular classes following the government’s directive to close institutions and schools in the country.

Although the facilitators send theme-based assignments including rhymes, sketches and play through WeChat, there was no one to facilitate the activities at home.

The facilitator, Sonam Choden said that it was challenging to keep the children engaged through online activities primarily through WeChat, as the parents and guardians were involved in their daily chores.

Choden’s son, Jamyang, 5, got registered in the ECCD after waiting for a year. After a week, it was closed. Choden said it was challenging to take care of the children’s health and keep them at home without anyone to look after them.

She said that her son was healthy while in ECCD. “ I had to admit him in the hospital recently. I hope the centre opens soon.”

Although Jamyang was eager to keep up with his daily activities through Wechat, Choden said that her son doesn’t get to use her phone.  Jamyang has to share his mother’s mobile phone with his two sisters.

Meanwhile, Bithikha chiwog was eagerly waiting for its new ECCD centre to open in March. The chiwog registered 32 children. But the centre hasn’t opened yet. Bithikha ECCD facilitator Choki Wangmo said that the centre was ready to welcome its first participants.

They are still waiting. But she is in constant touch with the children and their parents through WeChat.

Besides giving weekly activities, she said that she visits their homes twice as of today and distributed parenting guidelines as well. “It is difficult to engage all the children. Only half of the children take part in the activities.”

Many parents said that ECCD centres were useful in preparing their children before enrolling in formal school, and it was safe to open the centre, particularly in an isolated place.

Dema said that Lingshi was isolated and their children have no risk of transmission.